Pondicherry Park management plan finalized

By Gail Geraghty

Staff Writer

Pondicherry Park, the 65-acre natural jewel of downtown Bridgton, will become an official town park — complete with a dog loop trail — next Tuesday, if Bridgton selectmen agree to accept three documents governing the park’s ownership, management and stewardship.

The three documents were the result of carefully-crafted negotiations begun last fall between Loon Echo Land Trust, Lakes Environmental Association and the town, represented by Selectmen Bernie King, Doug Taft and Woody Woodward, with Town Manager Mitch Berkowitz serving as moderator. The negotiations were part of a condition under which voters agreed last November to take over ownership of the park, made possible by over $700,000 in donations from 710 donors through the purchase of separate parcels over six years.

On Tuesday, LELT Executive Director Carrie Walia, LEA Executive Director Peter Lowell and the three selectmen put the finishing touches on the three documents, which are as follows:

• A Quit Claim Deed with Covenant Reserving a Conservation Easement, which conveys the property from Loon Echo Land Trust to the town. It also grants LELT a permanent conservation easement to ensure that the park will remain forever wild, with no more than three miles of trails, for low-impact pedestrian use during normal town park hours of 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. It also prohibits motorized vehicles, smoking, hunting, camping or open fires, and creates a Pet and Bicyle Area, defined by a loop trail accessible via the Bob Dunning Memorial Bridge on one end and the park entrance on South High Street across from the First Congregational Church. Domesticated pets must be leashed, and waste picked up by their owners.

• A Committee Agreement for a Pondicherry Park Stewardship Committee, to be comprised of one regular member each representing LEA and LELT, and three regular members representing the town. Public Works Director Jim Kidder will work with this committee to carry out maintenance tasks and any repairs to trails, using up to $5,000 from the Moose Pond Trust Fund. The Stewardship Committee will assure the implementation of the Management Plan, oversee volunteer efforts on behalf of the park, work on grants and fundraising, report to selectmen at least quarterly and recommend to them additional activities and projects that could take place in the park in the future.

• A Pondicherry Park Management Plan, of which the town will have oversight, detailing the natural, cultural and man-made features of the park. The town, with volunteer help from the Stewardship Committee, will regularly inspect all structures to make sure they are safe and in good repair, inspect and make repairs to the trails in spring, summer and fall, and keep the trails clear of brush and fallen trees or branches. Up to six picnic tables may be located in the park a short distance away from existing trails, and one larger picnic facility will be placed in the woodland on the forest edge of the Keene Field.

All that said, Lowell pointed out Tuesday that the park was designed to be “minimalistic,” with benches, signs and walking trails for passive recreational use and nature study, and he expects that its care will be to a certain extent self-monitored by the people who use it. Taft, who initially had concerns about the cost to the town of maintaining the park, said it was a pleasure to work with Walia and Lowell, who he said were very willing to try and accommodate the town’s perspective.

Woodward said, “We realize (the management plan) is not going to fit everybody’s needs. Some people want a walk in the woods, while others want a theme park with rides on it.”

Fishing and trapping will be allowed, subject to Maine law, as will snowshoeing, cross-country skiing and picnicking at designated locations. There will be no grilling equipment at the picnic facility, and picnickers will not be allowed to walk in with hibachis. Fire is a real safety concern, the group said.

Walia said LELT’s expenses in caring for the park as its fiscal agent for the past six years have been for such things as providing insurance, mowing the field, creating and distributing brochures and a website, and LELT staff time expenses.

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